A team of scientists has developed a microscope which breaks the record for letting the user view the smallest object the eye can see. A standard optical microscope can only see things that are the size of about one micrometer, which is about 0.001 millimetres.
This new technology combines an optical microscope with a transparent microsphere, which has been dubbed the “microsphere nanoscope.” It can see objects that are 20 times smaller, about 50 nanometres (5 x 10-8m) under normal lights. This is beyond the theoretical limits of optical microscopy.
This greatly increased capacity means scientists could potentially see inside of human cells, and view live viruses for the first time and possibly see what causes them. The existing electron microscopes have the ability to see only the surface of a cell instead of being able to see its structure and currently there isn’t a way to see a live virus visually.
The scientists, who are from the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, now think they can use the microscope to detect much smaller images in the future. The new method doesn’t have a theoretical limit in the size of features that can be seen.
The new nano-imaging system is based on capturing optical, near-field virtual images, that are free from optical diffraction and making them bigger using a microsphere, and a tiny spherical particle which is relayed again and made larger with a standard optical microscope. This is a world record in the terms of just how tiny an optical microscope can see by covering the whole range of the optical spectrum.
This brand new technology could make it possible to study organisms such as viruses and learn how to cure them.